Christopher Philippo's Blog: Christmas Ghost Stories and Horror

December 31, 2020

The Ghost of the Old Year (1909)

Frank Lebby Stanton (1857-1927) had been poet laureate of Georgia, and wrote a considerable amount of dreadful dialect poetry—including Christmas poems. Some of his poems featured ghosts, as here - a poem that is NOT in dialect, thankfully. New Year's ghost stories don't seem to have been especially common, but there were some. Both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day fall within the Twelve Days of Christmas so would remain a good time for them in general.

[From the Atlanta Constitution]
I.
He was dreaming of the New Year resolutions he would make
And frame in costly fashion—toobeautiful to break;
But—"Who are you?" he shouted, as he rose from troubled sleep,
And saw an awful shadow from a chilly corner creep.
"I'm the ghost," the shadow answered, in the iron tones of Fate.
"Of the New Year's resolution that you made in 1908!
II.
"You see me—how I'm limping? How the light of life I lack?
You let me fail,—remember?—and the tumble broke my back!
You mended me—you patched me here and there, while seasons fled,
But I'm armless, and I'm legless and like you, I lost my head!"
III.
Then the New Year resolutionist he wept him bitter tears
As he thought of—him as only one of wrecks of ruined years;
And he waltzed toward the sideboard, where decanters met his view,
With—"For old times' sake, old fellow, here's a New Year health to you!"
FRANK L. STANTON.
Baltimore American [MD]. January 1, 1909: 7.
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Published on December 31, 2020 18:46 Tags: new-year-ghost

December 21, 2020

We Shall Never See the Like Again (1827)

The oldest poems or songs I found from the 19th century referencing Christmas ghost storytelling were both published in 1827. The first below was apparently reprinted so few times that it was possible to list all the instances found. Edwin Lees' "Signs of Christmas" was reprinted often, and continued to be republished about a hundred years later. Christmas ghost poems would feature through the entire Victorian period.

WE SHALL NEVER SEE THE LIKE AGAIN.

Our ancient English melodies,
Are banish'd out of doors,
And nothing's heard in modern days,
But Signoras and Signors.
Such airs I hate like a pig in a gate,
Give me the good old strain,
‘O tis merry in the hall when the beards wag all:’
We shall never see the like again,
We shall never, &c.

On beds of down our dandies lay,
And slumber out the morn,
While their sires of old they wak’d the day
With the sound of the bugle horn;
And their wives took care to provide good fare
When they had left the plain—
O ’twas merry in the hall, &c.

O then the merry tale went round
Of goblin, ghost, or fairy,
While they cheer'd the hearts of their tenants all
With a cup of good canary;
Or each took a smack of the coal-black jack,
While the fire burnt in their brain—
O ’twas merry in the hall, &c.
Rayner, Barnabas. F. J. Duncombe's Correct Edition. Mr. Rayner's Popular Entertainment of Up to Town and Back Again, Etc. London, 1827.
The Quaver, or Songster’s Pocket Companion. London: Charles Jones, 1844. 249-250. [As “’Twas Merry in the Hall,” with some differences, including the substitution of “Christmas tale” for “merry tale.”]
Osbourn, James G., ed. The Singer's Souvenir: Containing a Choice Selection of the Most Popular Fashionable Songs, Duetts and Glees, as Sung at the Musical Festivals, Fashionable Assemblies, Theatres and Concerts. NY: Richard Marsh, 1854. 194.
Logan, William Hugh, ed. A Pedlar's Pack of Ballads and Songs With Illustrative Notes. Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1869. 250-252.


Signs of Christmas (1827)

When on the barn's thatch'd roof is seen
The moss in tufts of liveliest green;
When Roger to the wood pile goes,
And as he turns, his fingers blows;
When all around is cold and drear,
Be sure that CHRISTMAS-TIDE is near.

When up the garden walk in vain
We seek for Flora's lovely train;
When the sweet hawthorn bower is bare,
And bleak and cheerless is the air;
When all seems desolate around,
CHRISTMAS advances o'er the ground.

When Tom at eve comes home from plough,
And brings the mistletoe’s green bough,
With milk-white berries spotted o’er,
And shakes it the sly maids before,
Then hangs the trophy up on high,
Be sure that CHRISTMAS-TIDE is nigh.

When Hal, the woodman, in his clogs,
Bears home the huge unwieldy logs,
That, hissing on the smould’ring fire,
Flame out at last a quiv’ring spire;
When in his hat the holly stands,
Old CHRISTMAS musters up his bands.

When cluster’d round the fire at night,
Old William talks of ghost and sprite,
And as a distant out-house gate
Slams by the wind, they fearful wait,
While some each shadowy nook explore,
Then CHRISTMAS pauses at the door.

When Dick comes shiv'ring from the yard
And says the pond is frozen hard,
While from his hat, all white with snow,
The moisture trickling drops below;
While carols sound, the night to cheer,
Then CHRISTMAS and his train are here.
Lees, Edwin. Christmas and the New Year: A Masque, for the Fire-Side. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1827. 10-11.
Christmas in Poetry Carols and Poems Chosen by a Committee of the Carnegie Library School Association. NY: H. W. Wilson Co., 1923. 12-13.
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Published on December 21, 2020 19:39 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

December 20, 2020

Christmas ghost jokes

The Victorians could be very witty, so these maybe aren't the best examples....

THE MOANING MARQUIS.—First Christmas Ghost: How d’ye do—how’s business?—Second Ditto (White Lady of Crumpett Castle): Oh, very slow. Things are not what they used to be. I think I shall learn typewriting, and go as an editor’s spook. That pays very well now, I’m told.
“Facts and Fancies.” South Wales Echo. January 26, 1894: 4 col 4.



RIDDLES, PUZZLES, AND CONUMDRUMS. [...]
Why are the bones in your back like a Christmas ghost?
Shepton Mallet Journal. December 21, 1894: 2 col 3.

Because you have never seen one.
Shepton Mallet Journal. December 28, 1894: 3 col 1.
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Published on December 20, 2020 18:09 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

Little Willie Bell (1827)

Most Christmas ghost stories, as opposed to poems, seem too long to dare include within a blog. "Little Willie Bell," from the Christmas Box of 1828 (available December 1827)—roughly as old as Sir Walter Scott's "The Tapestried Chamber" and thus also predating Dickens' Christmas ghost stories, is one of the shorter. It was reprinted several times between 1827 and 1828, but has been little-seen since.

It was praised in its time as well, though some raised concerns. The Spirit and Manners of the Age in December 1827 wrote that it "is full of pathos and interest, and is decidedly the best written piece in the volume; we need not say it is therefore the more dangerous, being calculated to make a deeper and more lasting impression—if, indeed, such impressions, received in childhood, are ever erased." The Lady’s Monthly Museum for January 1828 wrote, "'Little Willie Bell' is, we apprehend, more likely to impress children with a mysterious fear, and a groundless terror of ghosts and apparitions, than to warn them from the habits of duplicity and fraud. We more than doubt the utility and beneficial tendency of such stories."

Little Willie Bell—By Mr. Lockhart
“In Scotland, at every church door there is a stool and a broad pewter plate upon it, and every one that goes to church is expected to put something into the plate, as he passes it, for the poor of the parish. Gentlemen and ladies put in shillings and half-crowns, or more if they be very rich; but working men and their wives, and any one that is not very poor indeed, would be ashamed to go by the plate without putting in a penny or a halfpenny, to help the old frail people, and the blind and lame, who are not able to work and win money for themselves. It is the custom of good ladies and gentlemen in that country to give each of their children a halfpenny or a penny, or more if they can afford it, every Sunday morning, to put into the plate. And they do this, that their children may learn betimes to think of the hard condition of poor, frail, blind people, and how right it is for us to help them in their distress. I have told you these things, because if you did not know them, you would not be so well able to understand a story which I once heard told in Scotland. Long ago, there was a good worthy clergyman in that country, called Mr. Bell: he was very charitable and kind, and all the poor people loved him exceedingly. One Saturday an old schoolfellow, whom Mr. Bell had not seen for many years, came to visit him. Mr. Bell was very glad to see his schoolfellow, and invited him to stay there for a few days; and he agreed to do so. And Mrs. Bell prepared the best bed-room in the house for this gentleman, whose name was Major Lindsay; and the major had ridden a long journey, so he retired into the bed-room to change his dress before dinner; and this took up some time. He was about an hour in the bed-room by himself. They then dined, and after dinner Mr. Bell asked for the children, and they were brought into the parlour. The major was much pleased with the children, for they were very quiet. There were three of them, all girls, Jane, Mary, and Susan. But Jane was a good deal older than the others. The major took Susan on his knee, and kissed her, and then he looked round, and said to Mrs. Bell, “These are fine little girls, but where is the pretty boy that came into my room while I was dressing !” “These are all the children we have, major,” said Mrs. Bell. “I wonder who it could be, then,” said the major: “I was sitting by my bedside, when I saw a little, thin, white hand put through the round hole that is in the door; and it lifted the latch gently, and a very pretty little boy, with long brown curled hair, but rather pale and sickly in his appearance, came in. He did not look at me, but walked across the room very softly, as if he feared to disturb me; and he went into the room beyond mine, and I saw no more of him.’ The lady, when she heard this, put her handkerchief to her face, and went out, of the room with her children. The major was sorry to see Mrs. Bell discomposed, but could not understand the reason of it, until Mr. Bell told him. “I do not know (said he) who this little boy could be; but about a year ago we lost our only son, and what you said brought back my poor little Willie to his mother’s mind; for he had a pale complexion, and his hair was very fine, and hung in pretty curls over his neck. He was a beautiful child.” These two old friends remained silent for a little while, and then talked of other matters. The major told Mr. Bell about the wars in America, where he had been for many years with his regiment: and Mr. Bell told the major what had happened to others of their schoolfellows, while he was so far away from Scotland. Mrs. Bell was in good spirits again, when the gentlemen went to tea; and they were all very gay and happy the rest of the evening. Next morning, after breakfast, the major took Mr. Bell aside into the garden, and said—”This is a very odd thing: this morning I awoke very early, and presently the same little, thin, white hand appeared opening the latch of the door. The pale boy with the long curled hair came in just as before, and walked through the room into the closet. I was surprised, and got up and entered the closet after him. He was on his knees, scratching, as if he wanted to lift up one of the boards of the floor. I went close to him, and was just going to touch his shoulder, when suddenly, I can’t tell how, he contrived to disappear; and I found myself alone in the closet. After a little, I began to examine the board he had been scratching: I found it loose, and lifted it, and here is a sixpence I saw lying on the ground below it.” Mr. Bell looked very grave when he heard this. He took the sixpence from the major, and seemed to be vexed with the story. While he was thinking how it could be, the children came running out of the house: Mr. Bell called to them, and, shewing them the sixpence, said, ‘Come, my dears, can any of you tell me any thing of this? here is a sixpence, which the major has found under a loose board in the floor of the little closet that is beyond his bedroom.” Mary and little Susan shook their heads, and said nothing; but Jane, the eldest, blushed; and her papa saw she knew something that she did not like to tell. ‘Come, Jane,” said he, “speak the truth; and I shall forgive you, whatever you have done.” “Indeed, papa,” said Jane, “it was not I that put the sixpence there.” “Then who put it there?’ said Mr. Bell. And then the tears came running over Jane’s cheeks, and she said, ‘Oh, papa, I think it was poor Willie: the Sunday before he died, you gave him a sixpence to put into the plate, and he had a halfpenny of his own, and he put the halfpenny into the plate, and kept the sixpence; but Willie did not tell me where he hid it.” Mr. Bell shook his head; and the major saw that the tears were standing in his eyes. He said nothing for some time; but at last the church bell began to ring, and then he gave the sixpence to Jane, and bade her put it into the plate the same morning. Major Lindsay stayed some days at Mr. Bell’s; but neither he nor any body else ever saw any thing more of the little pale boy.”
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Published on December 20, 2020 08:29 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

December 18, 2020

Woden the Wild Huntsman

Arthur Walter Berry (1870-1934) was a native of Tamworth and had a number of poems published in newspapers and sometimes in journals at least during 1906-1917. The subject of the poem, Woden (Odin) was the Yule Father; Yule and the Wild Hunt were roots of both Christmas and Christmas horror (see e.g. "Don’t take Odin out of Yule," Norwegian American Weekly. December 19, 2014.

WODEN, THE WILD HUNTSMAN.
(From the Scandinavian.)

’Tis Christmas eve, the falling snow
Wraps tree and spire like sheeted ghosts;
This night the bitter north winds blow
A doleful dirge across our coasts.

While wandering down the dismal lane,
A sight appeals my startled eyes;
For I behold a spectral train
Of huntsmen uttering frenzied cries.

Awe-struck I gaze upon the pack
Of murderers and suicides;
Who sit astride each bony hack,
Commencing their nocturnal rides.

They race unto the four cross-roads,
Woden falls lightly from his horse;
And points unto the doom’d abodes
Of many a soul-forsaken corse.

Anon dismount the ghostly train,
Bemoaning their clay counterpart;
While sounds of strife and clanking chain
With ghoulish yell doth rend my heart.

The huntsmen mount again their steeds,
These spectral forms on bony backs,
In torment for their life’s misdeeds,
Pursue thro’ snow their midnight tracks.

The restless phantoms disappear,
The chanting of their raucous wail
Re-echoes in the dying year,
Then dies upon the winter’s gale.

With heavy heart do I return,
And muse where spectral huntsmen go;
While cottage-fires now dimly burn
Mid ghostly trees enwrapp’d in snow.
ARTHUR WALTER BERRY.
Tamworth Herald. December 23, 1911: 2 col 4.
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Published on December 18, 2020 18:28 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

December 17, 2020

Australian Christmas ghost stories (1907)

The poem in the previous post wasn't an isolated case. Australians did write Christmas ghost stories and poems too, aside from reprinting ones from England. Some Australians also came to have the same complaints as some of the English: that the stories were becoming too sordid for their liking.

GRUESOME CHRISTMAS STORIES.

BY E. C. MORRICE.

"Joyousness must be the Christmas Note," says our friend, the editor of the "Sydney Mail," in this "Answer to Literary Correspondents," and doubtless most of us will agree with him. Why, then, is it that so much of the Christmas literature is of a gruesome and gloomy character? Ghosts, murders, suicides, and other horrors prevail in the greater part of English Christmas stories, and Australian magazines and papers have, with a few exceptions, the same preference for tragic and grisly tales in their Christmas numbers.
Is it because the subjects of charity, forgiveness, and reconciliation are too trite, and require the contrast of hatred, revenge, and sin? Is it that our holiday exuberance requires toning down by depressing literature? Must Christmas stories be maudlin or morbid?
No one will deny that writers who have the ability, to depict the dark and seamy side of life, or the mysteries of the supernatural, are justified in using their gift, and that there are some readers who appreciate this kind of writing. But why should the time of peace, goodwill, and joyfulness be specially chosen for reminding us of the evils of humanity, or bringing before us the gruesomeness of spectral belief?
I have often pondered over this problem, and the other day I found what appeared to me a key to the mystery, as far as English literature is concerned. A critic in the "Sketch," reviewing a book called "Ferriby," by Mrs. Vere Campbell, writes that in contains enough thrills to send even the fairy tale prince who found it so hard to shiver, trembling to bed. He adds that a sequel seems to be promised, and that this "ought to come in time for Christmas gatherings, and be read while the wind whistles in the chimney."
That is it. The long, dark winter nights at English Christmastide; the falling snow; the howling gale, shrieking like a banshee round the house; the flames leaping merrily in the fireplace, casting dancing lights and deepening shadows in the room. The Christmas revellers ready after a joyous meal to sit round the hearth listening to stories sending thrills down their spine. The ancient English mansion, the family ghost connected with age-stained family portraits, the large house-party, with punch, snapdragon, and mistletoe, the grim corridors and haunted room, these are the adjuncts and surroundings for the gruesome Christmas stories.
But in our sunny land, where Christmas falls in the brightest time of the year, mid-summer, under azure skies and balmy nights, amid the song of birds and scent of flowers, with people ready for fun and frolic, ready to relieve suffering, but desirous to forget their own troubles for a short time in merrymaking, here it seems to me that gloomy and ghostly Yuletide tales are out of place. Let us have pathos, if it is not sickly—even tragedy if it ends in a satisfactory manner—but away with horrors, real or supernatural, in our Christmas numbers, which should be, to my idea, in accordance with the spirit of the most gracious holiday of our sun-bathed country.
Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser. December 25, 1907.


Christmas puddings too freely indulged in are disastrous to the physical constitution, Christmas literature greedily absorbed is ruinous to the mental condition. Why ghosts and other (non)entities which smell of the tomb should be considered specially suitable for the literature of the season, is one of the few remaining mysteries which have been handed down the ages, but Australian writers, forced thereto by the necessities of the casual contributor, continue to keep up the Christmas ghost fiction, and it is difficult to say which is the more nauseous, the Australian Christmas ghost story which makes its appearance in mid-December, or the morbid Australian yard which appears in the "Bulletin," and the "Bulletin's" slavish imitators throughout this Horsetralian life everlasting. After having made a praiseworth attempt to read the Christmas numbers of A.D. 1907, it is a blessed relief to turn to the "Christmas Tales" of DIckens A.D. 1840, and, pausing occasionally after reading one of his lifelike descriptions, to look up and appear to see it painted on the wall. Such fancy pictures make a wholesome sort of ghostly vision; the morbid drooping and sickly melancholy of 19th century christmas literature cannot even create an honest nightmare.
Truth [Brisbane, Queensland]. December 29, 1907: 8.
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Published on December 17, 2020 17:04 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

December 16, 2020

Old Father Christmas (1917)

Poet and author HELENA MABEL MILLS CHECKLEY FORREST (1872-1935) was Australian and one of her novels was adapted into a film there, The Moth of Moonbi (1926), but she was regularly published in American magazines as well.

World War I had begun July 28th, 1914; the United States entered on April 6th, 1917; the war not ending until November 11, 1918. The poem first appeared in the December 1917 issue of the Chicago-based Cartoons Magazine and was reprinted in a few American newspapers during 1917-18.

M. Forrest

OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS, 1917

You are not rotund as you used to be
With a big beard sweeping an ample chest
And your cheeks so rosy and so full
And a holly wreath…be it confes’t
Hangs oddly…on a skull…

Instead of a reindeer, for a steed
You’ve a spectral steed with a funeral walk
And a gaunt gray wolf behind you moves,
And all his larder’s leanness proves,
With only bones to stalk!

And over your head for mistletoe
A vulture—blown on an evil breath!
I like you not in your present mood,
Your wassail bowl has a reek of blood
And your jests…are grim as death!
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Published on December 16, 2020 20:58 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

December 15, 2020

The Christmas Clown (1862)

While Christmas ghost stories were arguably appreciated in the United States almost as much as in the UK, it may be that Christmas clowns were limited to England where they were a feature of the annual theatrical pantomimes.

The Christmas Clown.
A TRUE TALE.

Side-splitting jester! Merry Christmas mime,
Whose pranks enliven dreary Winter time,
At whose approach vanish a tear or frown!
What can resist the merry, tumbling Clown,
Or dear old Pantaloon, who wakes his store
Of thwacks contentedly, as erst of yore.
Well I remember how, with wicked leer,
Beneath the young girls’ bonnets he would peer;
Ready abettor of that naughty Clown,
Where to steal “sausage” or knock “bobby” down,
While to frustrate their schemes would e’er combine
Gay Harlequin and graceful Columbine.
But here stern Truth a while retards my task,
And bids me peep beneath the laughing mask.
Alas! the comic leer, the arch grimace,
Do often cover a care-haunted face!
Well I recall one long-past Christmas time,
With others witnessing a Pantomime;
Up went the curtain, and disclosed to view,
Of course, the usual motley, grisly crew—
Man-eating giants, goblins, mocking imps,
Maidens forlorn, preserved by fairy nymphs;
Until at last the wished-for time drew near
For that arch jester, merry Clown, t’ appear.
This Clown a daughter had, his only child,
Some thirteen Summers since her birth had smiled,
Tho’ weak and sickly, still her Father’s pride;
Well, on this very night the child had died.
* * * * *
A Mother’s care poor Lucy ne’er had known,
That Mother giving life resigned her own;
Not only life from her—the infant drew
Its fatal heritage—Consumption too!
The Father’s fond heart would not notice how
The gloom of death was shading that young brow;
He to the Playhouse from his home is gone,
And the poor ailing child is left alone.
* * * * *
Behold the Clown now duly patch’d and drest,
Devising for his entrance some droll jest,
His face besmeared with ochres white and red—
When news is brought him that his child is dead!
Silent awhile the wretched Father stands,
Hiding his features with his trembling hands;
Although his tortured bosom finds relief,
And hollow moans and sobs proclaim his grief;
His mouth distorted with a painted grin,
Seems mockery of the anguish felt within.
A few moments pass—the footlights he’s before,
And all the audience are in a roar.
* * * * *
Alas! poor Clown, thy misery had I known,
But small the mirth that night I should have shown;
For sorely my young heart would have been aching,
To think of thine, poor fellow! before me breaking!
E. C., Comedian, Nottingham.
Alas! poor Clown, thy misery had I known,
The Era [London, UK]. January 19, 1862: 11 col 1.
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Published on December 15, 2020 16:27 Tags: christmas-morbidity

December 14, 2020

African-Americans and Victorian Christmas ghost stories

I'd noted in the introduction to the book, "It was not hard to find stories and poems by women; the prevalence of their ghost stories has long been observed. It was hard to find ones by authors who weren’t white." (In the period of time from the beginning of the Victoria era in 1837 to the US entry into World War I in 1917, that is.)

Obviously, for a large part of that time frame low literacy rates for Black people in the US due in large part to slavery and anti-literacy laws kept authorship of *anything* pretty limited. However, I had thought in the later decades that it would be possible to find some examples. I searched in collections of stories by African-Americans and in African-American periodicals; used subject, keyword, Boolean searches; put out inquiries.

For the most part, I turned up more examples of white authors writing poems or stories in so-called "negro dialect" than any actually written by African-Americans. Perhaps some anonymous pieces were by Black people; it could have been a way to get published by any papers that might not have knowingly published Black authors. There would seem to be no way to determine the author of such an anonymous poem or story, though.

Aside from the few credited examples I found, and broad traditions somewhat in the same line, I also found some stories and poems by white authors that were republished in African-American newspapers—stories and poems that did not make any pretense of being authored by Black people. E.g.: "The Little Match Girl," who had ghostly visions before her death, and a poem inspired by the story:

• Andersen, Hans Christian. "The Little Match Girl.” The North Star [Rochester, NY]. April 13, 1849: 4.
• Wynne, Shirley. "When the Bells Were Ringing." Afro-American Sentinel [Omaha, NE]. December 18, 1897: 3.

Also, at least two newspapers had printed a story by Eugene Field (1850-1895), an author known especially for "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night/sailed off in a wooden shoe." In Field's story, toys came to life around Christmas, and complained about their treatment by a little girl. When "Santa Claus' boy" shows up to deliver presents instead of Santa, the toys took advantage of the fact. The Jumping Jack claimed that the candy was for him, and the paint (meant to be a new coat for him) was for the little girl. The girl gets an application of magic paint and a string attached, and for a year she becomes a pullstring-operated girl/toy hybrid monstrosity until Santa Claus fixes everything on the next Christmas. Cheery!

The story appeared in a number of newspapers over 1887-1890 or so, so these appearances were not unique to African-American newspapers. It does not seem to have been included in any of Field's books.

• Field, Eugene. “A Timely Tale Told on Christmas Eve.” The Freeman [Indianapolis, IN]. December 21, 1889: 8.
• Field, Eugene. “The Evil Jumping Jack." Leavenworth Advocate [KS]. December 20, 1890: 1. [Same story as above.]

Aside from those, one can at least find evidence of a familiarity with Charles Dickens' Christmas stories. E.g. there was a favorable comment in Frederick Douglass' newspaper:

CHRISTMAS NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLD WORDS. These "stories by the Christmas fire," are from the pen of Charles Dickens. Some we have read, and some we have not read; but all we mean to read, for we always expect great things of Mr. Dickens, and are rarely disappointed.
The North Star [Rochester, NY]. February 3, 1854: 3.


There’s a few African-American ghost story collections that I’d found (not Christmas-related), as well as articles on the subject, mostly sourced from or concerning the Work Projects Administration's Federal Writers Project collection of slave narratives. Many of the books are for younger readers. The narratives are not without issues, given the passage of time and complexities regarding how forthcoming people who formerly had been enslaved might have been with government interviewers, particularly with white ones—quite understandably so.

• Gorn, Elliott J. “Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves.” American Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4, 1984, pp. 549–565. JSTOR.
Onion, Rebecca. "Is the Greatest Collection of Slave Narratives Tainted by Racism?." Slate. July 6, 2016.

• Haskins, James, and Ben Otero. The Headless Haunt and Other African-American Ghost Stories./a>< HarperTrophy, 1995
• Lyons, Mary E. Raw Head, Bloody Bones: African-American Tales of the Supernatural . Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1991.
• Rhyne, Nancy. Slave Ghost Stories: Tales of Hags, Hants, Ghosts & Diamondback Rattlers . Sandlapper, 2002.

Mostly if not all Southern. Aside from those, a lot of books with folktales or folklore in the titles. In a somewhat different category, a recent book looking at ghost tours and how African-Americans are represented in those:

• Miles, Tiya. Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. North Carolina UP, 2017.

Also of some interest is a book that has some African-American Victorian Christmas stories, though none featuring ghosts:

• Collier-Thomas, Bettye, ed. A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories. Boston Beacon Press, 2018.

Returning to the aforementioned traditions, respecting Junkanoo there's a colorful and clearly heartfelt children's book concerning it:

• Smalls, Irene, and Melodye Rosales. Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade. the Johnkankus. Little, Brown and Company, 1996. [It an be borrowed at the Internet Archive .]

It emphasizes the celebratory aspects of the holiday, not anything that might be intentionally scary or that might be scary to a child not understanding the masks, horns, and so on (as even Santa Claus can be for some little ones). There's an author's note describing some history of it and sources used. The story centers African-American life and culture. Slavery is mentioned periodically throughout: having to prepare food for "the big house," family being separated and subject to slaveholders' whims as to whether they could stop labor and see each other—it being a Christmas children's book, the family in it is able to meet.

The idea that Christmas was universally a happy time for African-Americans during slavery is examined and debunked in a recent book worth reading:

• May, Robert E. Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory . Virginia UP, 2019.
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Published on December 14, 2020 08:50 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

December 13, 2020

A Christmas Ghost Story (1905)

A short example of the "it wasn't really a ghost" type, which can be interesting under certain circumstances. In this case the interest attaches not so much to the story's content, but to the likelihood that it is the earliest recorded example of a Christmas ghost story, made for the British branch of Thomas Edison's company. The transcription is my own.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) first invented the phonograph in 1877, but at that time each playback would significantly degrade the recording. It would be some time before it was a marketable product, and still longer before durable recordings were possible. The reading by Englishman HARRY GRATTAN (1867-1951) reintroduced the oral transmission of ghost stories and, since 1951, has permitted people to hear the voice of a dead man telling it.

“A Christmas Ghost Story” by Mr. Harry Grattan, Edison Records.
People nowadays don’t believe in ghost stories, but the following things actually happened to me, and that is why my hair is white, and though not a nervous man I can never forget that awful night four years ago. Then, as now, the old church clock was chiming out the midnight hour. I was sitting in the library, reading a book in which I was much interested when the thing appeared. It was a horrible night. The wind howled as though all the lost souls in Purgatory were screaming through the world the tale of all their blood-clotted crimes and the agony of their remorse. The dim candles flickered and fluttered, casting ghoulish, gruesome shadows in the corners of the room that fancy turned to evil spirits, then suddenly went out. Darkness, relieved only by the fitful flare of the slowly dying fire. Then, gradually I heard slowly drawing nearer, nearer the clank, clank, clank as of someone drawing a heavy chain along the passage. Nearer, nearer it came and as I listened I felt, or rather knew, that the door opened, and an icy cold swept into the room bringing with it a chill not of this earth, but the chill of death. It came nearer, then stopped, and then a moan. A moan so fraught with agony that me blood curdled in me veins. Then something touched me shoulder. At that, beads of sweat broke out on me head, me tongue clinged to the roof of me mouth. I was unable to cry out. Oh, the agony of that moment, sitting there waiting for what would happen next. Silence! Deep, silence. Suddenly, the moon breaking through the storm, black clouds cast a sheet of light across the room. A shriek! A frightful, blood-curdling shriek rang through the house. I turned in me chair and saw—“What’s that!”
I found meself on the floor. I had fallen out of me chair, and as I woke up! … I’d trodden on the cat.
Christmas on Cylinders Concert Part 2.” City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society.
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Published on December 13, 2020 10:34 Tags: christmas-ghost-stories

Christmas Ghost Stories and Horror

Christopher Philippo
I was fortunate enough to edit Valancourt Books' 4th vol. of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories. Things found in the course of compiling will be shared here. (Including some Thanksgiving Ghost items.) ...more
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